German Christian Democrats fight populists in the East

TIT LITTLE The East German state of Saxony-Anhalt is led by a so-called “Kenya” coalition, made up of three parties whose colors correspond to that country’s flag: the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), the Social Democrats and the Greens. But the infighting is so bad that it should be named after the similar hues of the Afghan flag, laughs Oliver Kirchner, local head of the Right-wing Alternative for Germany (AFre).

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He should know. Five years ago, the AFre– an extremist outfit shunned by all other parties – won a quarter of the vote, forcing the Kenyan trio to adopt an unequal arrangement. the AFreThe lasting support from Saxony-Anhalt may force them to continue after the election of Saxony-Anhalt on June 6.

Parts of this state offer an ominously familiar East German history of deindustrialization, depopulation and know-it-all resentment. Wessis (westerners). the AFrethe strength of in such places gives the CDU, which drives the federal government, a lingering puzzle. The bizarre coalitions it dictates are bad enough: the government of Saxony-Anhalt has often teetered on the brink of collapse. In Brandenburg and Saxony, the AFRE’s the muscle forced the CDU in similar awkward gear.

But a lot in the CDU, in Saxony-Anhalt and other eastern states, also bitterly resent the sanitary cordon their leaders have erected around the AFre. Maybe a third of CDU‘s deputys in Saxony-Anhalt would prefer to work with the populists, believes Wolfgang Renzsch, professor emeritus at the University of Magdeburg. Many regularly flirt with AFre policies, most recently in December during an argument over TV-permit fees that nearly overthrew the government. (This episode, like others before it, was defused by the crafty Reiner Haseloff CDU Prime Minister.) Concerned CDU members circulated a letter to their colleagues urging them to hold the line against the AFre.

The eastern states are small, but their dramas still resonate. Last year, in Thuringia, the local branch of the CDU supported a prime minister also supported by the AFRE. Fury finished Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as the CDUthe national leader and heir apparent to Angela Merkel. His successor, Armin Laschet, takes a firm stand against the AFre. This post is likely to lead Mr. Haseloff to a narrow victory over the AFre, giving Mr. Laschet a favorable wind for the federal elections in September. Yet he is faced with a dilemma: the CDUthe main rival in the west is the green party, but in the east it is the AFre. This pair is poles apart. CDU the wallahs admit that it is difficult to find a cohesive national message.

One idea is to simply cancel part of the eastern vote. Last week, Marco Wanderwitz, government commissioner for East Germany, rekindled an old debate by claiming that part of the electorate had been “socialized by dictatorship” and did not understand democracy. The other parties, he said, should leave them to the AFre and awaits a new generation.

However, 30 years after German reunification, the AFRE’His strength suggests that he cannot simply be expected. In the East, he is more popular among younger voters than among older ones. And he always manages to find a popular theme, sighs Sven Schulze, the CDUthe chair of Saxony-Anhalt: ten years ago, it was the euro; refugees five years ago; now covid-19. (Mr Kirchner has promised to launch inquiries into what he considers excessive foreclosure.) The CDU management is determined to lock the AFre. But he still has no cure for his oriental headache.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Deny the Alternative”

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